As a nurse leader, one of the most pernicious problems you face is nurse burnout. This condition may not be apparent on the surface, as your staff may appear to be conducting their day-to-day activities adequately and competently. But stress or anxiety may lurk beneath—a recent survey found that nearly half of U.S. nurses have considered leaving the field, a statistic borne out and reinforced by the ongoing nursing shortage.
Nurse burnout is defined as a physical, mental, and emotional state nurses might acquire due to chronic overwork, a sustained lack of job fulfillment, and/or insufficient institutional or peer support. Symptoms of this condition include physical or emotional exhaustion, cynicism about the job, and a feeling of lack of personal accomplishment.
To keep tabs on nurse burnout, look for the following signs among your staff: irritability, frequently calling in sick, intolerance to change, exhaustion and a general “checked out” mentality.
While it’s true that nothing you can do will make nursing an easy job, there are some simple things you can do to encourage your staff and make them feel supported.
A simple method recommended to help nurses avoid burnout is to occasionally stop what you’re doing, take a breath and remember why you’re doing it. The simple act of tuning back into your motivation for becoming a nurse can re-energize you and help you do a better job when you’re feeling disconnected from the work.
“Being a nurse is really tough in this changing paradigm of healthcare,” said Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN, Chief Nurse, Wolters Kluwer Health, Learning Research & Practice. “Sometimes when you feel overwhelmed, it’s hard to remember what brought you here in the first place. When you're feeling overwhelmed, stop, drop your anchor, and remember what brought you to this position in the first place—and that is because you want to care for people.”
Nursing is an exhausting job—physically, mentally, and emotionally—and that exhaustion can, in turn, create a vicious cycle of feelings of burnout. Research shows that nurses are more overweight, have higher levels of stress, and get less sleep than they should.
“As nurses, we care for other people—that’s what we do,” said Lisa Bonsall, MSN, RN, CRNP, Senior Clinical Editor, Lippincott Nursing Center, Wolters Kluwer Health, Learning Research & Practice. “Usually we’re the last person on our own to-do list. That has to change because if we’re not healthy and we’re not well-rested, then we can’t provide the best care.”
Encourage your staff to get enough sleep, exercise, and eat well during their off-hours. The efforts will pay off as your staff will generally feel better on the job—and do a better job.
In addition to patient acuity, nurse staffing should take account of the traffic in and out of units. Having a high number of admissions and discharges on the same day can have a big impact on the amount of work your nurses will have to do and adds to nurse stress and burnout. Balancing your staffing based on patient need—rather than a number—is key to decreasing burnout.
Career difficulties can also significantly contribute to nurse burnout. Encouraging your staff to engage in continuing education can help them renew their passion for the job, and increased education has been shown to correlate with higher job satisfaction among nurses.
Furthering your education is also necessary for improving patient outcomes—one study showed a 10% increase in hospital nursing staff with a BSN degree correlated with a 2-6 % decrease in patient mortality rates.
Like most professionals, nurses need a decent work-life balance. Encourage your staff to do the things they love doing during their off-hours. Enjoying hobbies and trying relaxation techniques such as meditation or journaling during breaks also can help relieve work-related stress.
The most important way you can help your staff achieve a solid work-life balance? By example. It doesn’t help your staff to see you frazzled, so build some downtime into your own schedule. Do small errands scattered through the week if possible, so you have more time during the weekend to relax. And avoid activities that unnecessarily sap your time and energy, so you feel less stressed and more confident at work.
“It’s really important that we focus care on ourselves so that we take better care of others,” Bonsall said.
To hear more from our chief nurse, Anne Dabrow Woods, and NursingCenter.com’s Senior Clinical Editor, Lisa Bonsall, watch 2019 Macrotrends in Nursing: The Nursing Shortage.